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  • Friday, March 03, 2017 2:27 PM | Monica Wiedel-Lubinski (Administrator)

    The learning environment is the physical embodiment of our beliefs about education, young children and our values. Nature-based programs often vacillate between indoor and outdoor spaces. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

    1. You can't organize materials without thinking about aesthetics. Plastic bins have a very different feel than woven baskets. Everything we use, including organization aides, sends a message and sets a mood. Opt for natural, rustic, or recycled containers for organizing instead of plastic ones. Consider apple crates, wicker baskets, wooden bowls and trays, canvas bins, or galvanized pails.

    2. Materials should be stored in a way that is accessible and available for young children to independently choose and put away on their own. This empowers children to make choices about what they need, and makes it easier for children to help with clean up. This is a natural way for young children to learn responsibility.

    3. Commercial products for early learning environments are often an explosion of bright yellows, reds and blues. Go for shelves and containers that are wooden or in subdued neutral tones. A room can feel more cluttered than it is simply by having too many bold and contrasting colors everywhere.

    4. Keep a small shed or storage bench for outdoor tools and materials. A wagon is also a great alternative. You are sure to have helpers pull the wagon when you head out for some nature play!

    Author Sandra Duncan published a wonderful book, Rethinking the Classroom Landscape: Creating Environments that Connect Young Children, Families, and Communities in 2016. It features the Nature Preschool at Irvine Nature Center, as well as many other outstanding early childhood centers. 

    We communicate the value of learning and our learning materials when they are organized. Young children come to understand this as one way we show respect. When we give care and attention to materials by organizing them and storing them neatly, we demonstrate that we value them. By making materials accessible to the children, we also communicate that we value a child's right to make choices about learning, and that we trust children to use materials properly. A learning environment full of things that are off limits and not to be touched sends an underlying message that children are not trusted or respected.

    When you look at the way you currently store your materials, what do you think you are communicating to young children? Staff? Families? What is one small thing you can do today to improve in this area?

  • Monday, January 16, 2017 1:37 PM | Monica Wiedel-Lubinski (Administrator)
    When the temperature dips, there is nothing better than cuddling up with a blanket and a cup of tea. No argument there! But it's still important to get outside daily, grown-ups and children alike. Here are five reasons why:

    1. Sunshine. Vitamin D is perfectly delivered by the sun through our skin. It helps boost the immune system and elevates mood, keeping the winter blues at bay. The amount of sunshine each person needs can vary, but aim for at least 15 minutes a day. 

    2. Fresh Air. When we are cooped up in shared spaces, germs can spread more rapidly. (Yes, many germs are healthy for us, but who wants more exposure to cold and flu germs?) Breathe in the cold, fresh air and take a break from stuffy indoor settings. 

    3. Get Moving. We are more likely to be active when we are outside. Whether it's hiking, inventing winter games, dreaming up spring garden plans or frolicking in a natural play space, we are more likely to exercise when we go outside. 

    4. Wildlife Love. Although many animals are slumbering, there are still plenty of animals to observe in winter, especially birds! Get outside for a dose of winter bird watching and fill up your feeders with seed and suet, too.

    5. Reflect.  Take time for quiet reflection away from the noise of daily life. A peaceful winter walk is a great way to model reflection for young children. Fill your soul with optimism: winter holds nature's eternal promise of spring.

  • Thursday, December 08, 2016 2:28 PM | Monica Wiedel-Lubinski (Administrator)

    By: Monica Wiedel-Lubinski, Executive Director of ERAFANS

    For those of us working with young children, we know how rewarding the work is. We live to hear their laughter. We revel in those muddy-faced days. Their little messy hands and smiles melt our hearts instantly. There is so much magic and innocence and pure intention in the souls of those sweet little people. Combined with the awe and wonder of nature, we can’t help but have amazing experiences together. Our job is to savor those moments and keep facilitating new ones, chock full of tiny personal victories and sloppy hugs.

    But let’s be honest about the whole picture. There are difficult days. Really, really tough days. Days when you don’t want to hear another complaint from a parent about the snack or hear them ask “are you really going to take them outside today?”. Days when it seems like everyone is oozing and coughing or crying. Sometimes we ask ourselves ‘did I handle that right? Did they actually learn anything today’?

    Dear educators, remember: YES. Even on those difficult days when everyone seems unhappy and chaos feels like it’s taken hold – YES, they are still learning important lessons from us.

    We all know that life isn’t perfect and pleasant all the time. Part of our role is to help children cope with the lumps and bumps along the path. Our kindness and compassion towards a sad child, positive attitude when things don’t go as planned, and ability to re-frame a challenging situation is comforting to young children. This reminds them that no matter what, we can make the best of any situation and take action to make it better. If it means taking a long, deep breath, stepping away to regroup for a moment, or bursting out with a joke or song to lighten the mood, then so be it. We model important social and emotional skills for young children, especially on those tough days. We reassure them that we can get through challenges and there are lots of positive ways to do it!

    So we shouldn’t get discouraged. We must savor this fleeting time with the little ones. During this crazy holiday season, let’s remember to be kind and forgiving of ourselves and those around us, especially our little friends, families and co-workers. The happy moments and the tough ones alike are the stuff of life. This is the real making of compassionate, loving people. We are doing it, one mitten-handed day at a time.

    We can’t wait to gather as a group! Stay tuned for updates about ERAFANS and all of the fantastic professional development we have in store! Our first Natural Wonder Summit will take place at the New Canaan Nature Center in CT on April 1, 2017. We are also coordinating several regional Outdoor Learning Retreats, one of which will be held at the Carroll Community College in MD on Saturday, August 26, 2017. Complete our contact form and we will let you know the minute our registration goes live!

  • Friday, November 04, 2016 2:24 PM | Monica Wiedel-Lubinski (Administrator)

    This week marks the official start of ERAFANS! The founding members have been working diligently for months to move this association forward. We know how valuable our association is for nature preschools, forest kindergartens and the whole range of early childhood settings that also exist in our region. We are committed to making affordable, meaningful, nature-based training accessible to EVERYONE!

    That said, starting a non-profit takes a lot of time and energy. If you can support our cause now, please make a donation.  Very, very soon you will be able to join as an ERAFANS member and keep our good work moving forward.

    Thank you for your positive energy, ideas and support!

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